2015年4月23日星期四

STEPHEN GLOVER: There have always been charlatans in politics

Grant Shapps has been accused of tampering with his Wikipedia page under an alias - and it is not the first time he has been accused of altering an entry

Grant Shapps has been accused of tampering with his Wikipedia page under an alias - and it is not the first time he has been accused of altering an entry

Wikipedia gets things wrong. For years there were two factual inaccuracies in my modest entry (not written by me) in the online encyclopedia which I eventually asked a more tech-savvy friend to correct.

Perhaps I should consider myself fortunate. A female colleague’s Wikipedia entry imaginatively stated that she had adopted a clutch of HIV-positive African orphans, and that she was dating a hunk from ITV’s endurance sports game show Gladiators.

So when I read in the Tory-hating Guardian that Grant Shapps, the joint Conservative Party Chairman, stands accused of tampering with his Wikipedia entry under an alias, my sympathies initially inclined in his direction. Perhaps a blatant falsehood was getting on his nerves.

But when I read on, and discovered that Mr Shapps or someone acting on his behalf had also been accused of altering the entries of Tory rivals and political opponents in a way not entirely friendly to them, I began to think he had been a silly fool, as well as rather underhand.

Mr Shapps, it should be said, utterly denies having done any of the things The Guardian accuses him of, and it is certainly possible that he is the victim of dirty tricks.

However, it must be said he has form in this area. Nearly three years ago he was accused of rewriting his Wikipedia entry so as to eliminate any reference to a not very distinguished academic record. He was said also to have inserted a glowing testimony to his work on homelessness.

Nor can it be denied that the joint Conservative Party Chairman has in the not-so-distant past used an alter ego to promote his work as a leading self-help guru. In 2004 he posed as a multi-million-dollar web marketeer called Michael Green at a conference in New York. Distinctly odd.

If Mr Shapps is a serial rewriter of Wikipedia entries, he is not the only one. Two years ago Labour’s ‘poster boy’ Chuka Umunna was plausibly accused of doctoring his own page so as to insinuate a flattering resemblance to President Barack Obama. He denied he had had anything to do with it but it emerged that a computer registered to a law firm for which he once worked had introduced the comparison. If it wasn’t Chuka himself with his fingers on the keyboard, it was unquestionably someone with his best interests at heart.

Mr Umunna is a rising Labour star spoken of (and not only by himself) as a future Prime Minister. Mr Shapps’s reputation may be in decline but he is still Chairman of the Tory Party, an important role not long ago filled by considerable men — it was usually men — in their 50s or 60s who exuded authority and were almost always serious-minded.

Shapps isn't the only one: two years ago Labour’s ‘poster boy’ Chuka Umunna was plausibly accused of doctoring his own page so as to insinuate a flattering resemblance to President Barack Obama

Shapps isn't the only one: two years ago Labour’s ‘poster boy’ Chuka Umunna was plausibly accused of doctoring his own page so as to insinuate a flattering resemblance to President Barack Obama

Could there be a more telling example of the essentially juvenile nature of many of our modern politicians than tinkering with a Wikipedia entry so as to be viewed more favourably?

Lord Tebbit, who happens himself to be a former Tory Party Chairman, has just made a similar point in an interview with BBC’s Newsnight. He criticised David Cameron for not being a ‘real man’ with ‘real depth of experience’.

He said that the Prime Minister had never done anything except be a special adviser and work in PR for Carlton Television. ‘Men like Churchill, Attlee and [Aneurin] Bevan were real men with real depths of experience,’ said Lord Tebbit. Actually it was extremely disployal and inopportune of him to lay into Mr Cameron two weeks before such a momentous general election. Doesn’t he want the Tories to win? How pleased the Lefties who run Newsnight must have been at this show of political fratricide.

That said, Lord Tebbit has a point, but not only in relation to Mr Cameron. If one were looking for a nerdy ‘anorak’ who has spent his adult life either as a political adviser or MP, and never done a day’s work in the real world, one could do no better than Ed Miliband.

Mr Shapps's Wikipedia page stated that he had edited the site 'removing negative information', as shown in the highlighted text top image, but Contribsx changed it to cast the minister in a better light

Mr Shapps's Wikipedia page stated that he had edited the site 'removing negative information', as shown in the highlighted text top image, but Contribsx changed it to cast the minister in a better light

At least the Tory leader operated in a commercial realm when he was on the payroll at Carlton. The Labour leader knows nothing of commerce or business and it’s hardly surprising he should be so unsympathetic to their interests, as well as being apparently so ignorant of their needs.

I’m afraid our three main political parties are dominated by fortysomething metropolitan types whose greatest expertise is party politics: George Osborne, Ed Balls, Douglas Alexander, Nick Clegg — the list is endless. Some of them are very clever people, others less so, but in either case their knowledge of the wider world is invariably frighteningly limited.

In their approach to electioneering they are guided by focus groups and polling evidence, having relatively meagre first-hand experience of people outside their comfort zone. As far as possible they avoid contact with ordinary voters, whom they fear and privately tend to patronise.

Of course, as one gets older one must guard against the idea that 30 or 40 years ago all statesmen were grown-up people grounded in the real world. They weren’t. There were charlatans and lightweights and shallow politicians then as now. But aren’t there rather more of them today?

'I don’t want to be beastly about Grant Shapps, but it’s almost inconceivable that so slight a man would have been Chairman of the Tory Party in a previous age,' writes Glover

'I don’t want to be beastly about Grant Shapps, but it’s almost inconceivable that so slight a man would have been Chairman of the Tory Party in a previous age,' writes Glover

I don’t want to be beastly about Grant Shapps, but it’s almost inconceivable that so slight a man would have been Chairman of the Tory Party in a previous age. To be fair to him, he does have some experience of business, though seemingly of a rather bizarre sort. But he is a political bantamweight, utterly incapable of lifting the party faithful or connecting with the wider electorate.

During the 1970s Tory Party chairmen included Lord Carrington, a former High Commissioner to Australia and an ex-Major in the Grenadier Guards; Willie Whitelaw, a man of vast experience who had won a military cross in the war; and Lord Thorneycroft, a former soldier, businessman and seasoned government minister.

Labour figures were also usually men of the world. Aneurin Bevan, who was cited by Lord Tebbit, became a miner at 13 and then a trade union activist before winning a scholarship to an educational institution funded by the unions. In 1948 Bevan set up the National Health Service. I would have found some of his views obnoxious, but there is no doubting he was a substantial and serious person.

What strikes me above all about this campaign is its lack of seriousness. There has been more than the usual quotient of transparent bribes and mudslinging, and I’ve heard more silly lies told than I can remember during an election. These are the politics of the playground.

Needless to say, no one has offered any kind of vision for this country, and the important issues that concern many people (and embarrass politicians), such as immigration and Europe, have been studiously avoided.

Yesterday Mr Cameron and Boris Johnson were engaged in a competitive game of finger printing in Tory blue for the benefit of the TV cameras. A welcome respite from the grind of electioneering? Or a pointless piece of childishness perfectly in keeping with a pretty infantile election?

The truth is that a somewhat immature and increasingly detached political class has gained control of the political process, often aided and abetted by a compliant media, particularly on our screens. Age, wisdom, experience and knowledge of the world — attributes which politicians sought in the past — are now regarded by our rulers as defects.

Is it any wonder that the public is less than enthralled by this election? But then I fear that it will never be roused by a callow political cadre that blithely goes on replicating itself.



没有评论:

发表评论